Prize-winning Eccles Cakes, 2016

So, OK, I only won the prize because no-one else entered, but I’m confident they would have stood up to any competition.

I’m usually disappointed by any Eccles cakes apart from the usual shop-bought ones which aren’t really ‘puffy’ puff pastry and these did turn out very like them: I used Delia Smith’s cheat method for puff pastry, because life’s too short. This recipe makes about 10 decent sized cakes, but you could make more if you go for a smaller size of pastry square. Don’t forget to adjust cooking times if you make smaller ones though – they’ll cook more quickly.

Ingredients:  Rough Puff Pastry:

  • 1 pack (250g) salted butter
  • 350g plain flour
  • Water

Filling:

  • about 100g currants
  • 25g chopped apricots
  • 30g butter
  • zest of an orange or lemon or 2 limes
  • Orange liqueur*
  • two tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom

* NB. you can use any booze here, the original recipe used to have brandy it in apparently, but then those temperance folk came along and complained. You can use mixed peel but I hate it so usually substitute apricots.

Freeze the butter for about half an hour, measure the flour into a big mixing bowl and then grate the butter into it using a box grater – the side you’d normally use to grate cheese. If the butter’s getting a bit melty, dip it in the flour. When it’s all done, mix it up with a knife, chopping any big lumps until it’s the consistency of bread crumbs. Add the cold water a bit at a time until you get a reasonable dough.

Put the dough in a plastic bag or clingfilm and chill it in the fridge for an hour. Take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before you’re ready to roll, or it can be too hard to roll out.

Meanwhile make the filling. Melt the butter in a pan, and add everything else. The longer you can leave this soaking in the booze, the juicier and more fabulous the currants and apricots will taste. Currants will soak up quite a lot. If you have some free liquid when you’re ready to use it, pour it off or you’ll get a soggy bottom. Actually drinking it is quite nice.

Roll the dough out, fold it up – all recipes seem to think it’s important to fold over a third into the middle and then the other third over that, so why not do that? Then roll it and do it again a couple of times more.

Finally cut out a square about the size of a CD case and put a dollop of the fruit mixture in the middle and fold in the corners – a bit of water applied to them will help them stick. Turn them over and nudge them gently into a more round shape. When you’ve done them all, make some slits in the top, wet the tops slightly with water and sprinkle them with some brown sugar.

Bake for about 20 mins in a 225°C oven, until they’re a nice golden brown. If they still look or feel a bit soggy and pale around the sides or bottom, leave them in for another 5-10 minutes. For god’s sake leave to cool before sampling. The insides are hotter than the sun when they first come out. They’re actually better completely cold.

To serve: Stuff them into your face as fast as you can before someone else gets hold of them. With clotted cream is nice.

ecclescakes

 

 

 

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apricot and walnut shortcake

With grateful thanks to our Good Housekeeping cookery book – subtitled the cook’s classic companion – and well worth seeking out if you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to traditional recipes.

For the shortcake:

  • 175g self raising flour
  •  half teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 75g unsalted butter – softened
  • 50g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg

For the filling:

  • 100g broken walnuts
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg white
  • 410g can of apricot halves in juice (or you can use fresh apricots, stoned and halved, poached briefly in water with a bit of sugar and lemon juice added)

Grease a shallow 8 inch (20cm) round springform tin. Put the flour and cinnamon in a food processor and add the butter. Blitz until it looks like fine breadcrumbs. Add the sugar and the egg and mix to a soft dough.

Turn the dough into the greased tin and smooth it out evenly. You could use the back of a spoon to do this, or your fingers.

Now start the filling.  Put the walnuts in the food processor with the sugar and blitz until it’s all finely ground.  Then add the egg white and blend it to a soft paste.  Spread this mixture over the shortcake base and leave a 1cm-ish gap to the edge.

Drain the apricots well.  Arrange them with the cut side down over the filling.  Bake at 180 degrees C for about 30 minutes, until the filling has risen between the apricot halves and is looking set and slightly browned.

You can glaze the shortcake with some sieved apricot jam mixed with the juice drained from the fruit, heated in a pan until it goes syrupy (about 3 minutes).

For a bit of variation you could use ground almonds instead of walnuts, and you can also use plums instead of apricots.

Biscotti

IMG_20151228_182522The week between Christmas and New Year – a time for pootling about and trying new stuff that I wouldn’t normally have the time to do. So I’ve had a crack at making biscotti, to be dipped in vin santo (or Pedro Ximenez sherry, or a dessert wine). You can dip them in coffee or hot chocolate too.

  • 150g almonds with the skin on
  • 250g granulated sugar
  • Grated zest of a lemon
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp fine salt
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (or 3 small ones)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

Heat the oven to 200 degrees C or gas mark 6. Put the almonds on a baking tray and bake for five minutes, then take them out and chop them very roughly when they have cooled down a bit.

While the almonds are in the oven, you have the time to weigh out the rest of the ingredients.  Start with the sugar, then grate the lemon zest into it and mix well.  Then add the flour, baking powder and salt and mix that well.  Beat the 2 eggs in a separate bowl, then stir them into the mix too, along with the almonds.  Stir it all together until it forms a dough.  It will be quite sticky.

Sift some icing sugar onto a worktop. Split the dough into two and roll each part into a sausage just long enough to put onto a baking tray – this will be about 5cm in diameter.  Make sure the two sausages are well separated as they will spread a lot on the tray. Bake for about 20 minutes.  Take the tray out of the oven and reduce the heat to about 150 degrees C.  After about 10 minutes of cooling down, slide the now flattened sausages onto a chopping board and use a sharp bread knife to cut them into diagonal slices about 1cm in width.  This is a bit of a guessing game – if you leave them to cool for too long they’ll be difficult to cut, and if they are too hot you’ll squash them.

Put the slices back on the baking tray and put them back in the oven for 15 minutes – take them out, turn them over and put back in for another 15 minutes.  When you take them out for the final time, put them on a wire rack to cool down completely. You can them put them in an airtight biscuit tin. They should keep for at least a month.

microwave meringues

I’m never buying meringues again.  Five minutes in the kitchen produced a whole load of these.

  • The white of one medium egg
  • 250-300g icing sugar

Put the white of egg in a medium sized bowl and mix in about about 250g icing sugar. I didn’t even bother sifting it. Mix it well until it forms a firm, pliable dough that’s not sticky, a bit like fondant icing.  You may need more than 250g of icing sugar – depends on the size of the egg. Break off walnut-sized pieces, roll them briefly in your hand until they are more or less spherical, and place 3 or 4 of the balls on a piece of kitchen paper on a cold plate. Make sure they are well separated or they’ll expand and merge into one big meringue… Put in the microwave and cook on full power for about 1 – 1.5 minutes depending on the power of your microwave (ours is 900W and it took them just over a minute). Take them out of the microwave and put them on a cake rack to cool and dry out. Continue cooking them 3 or 4 at a time. One egg white made about 12 meringues.   They are less robust than shop-bought meringue nests and break very easily – which makes them ideal for Eton mess!

Triple chocolate brownies

triple choc brownie

Morgan’s speciality. This mixture makes about 18 and lasts about as many minutes after they’ve cooled down enough to eat.

  • 250g good quality dark chocolate
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 125g plain flour
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g broken pecans or walnuts (optional)
  • 50g white chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 160 degrees C or gas mark 3.

Put 3-4 cm water into a saucepan and bring it to a simmer over a medium heat.  Break up the chocolate, cut up the butter and put both in a mixing bowl. Put it over the pan of gently simmering water and turn the heat off. Stir occasionally until melted together and smooth. Alternatively, put the broken up chocolate and butter into a microwave-proof bowl and microwave on full power for 10 seconds, take out and stir, then put back in for another 10 seconds, etc. until it’s all melted.  Only 10 seconds at a time, mind, or you could end up with burnt chocolate and nobody wants that.

Meanwhile, break the 3 eggs into another bowl, and pour in the sugar.  Whisk the sugar and eggs together until the mixture is smooth and creamy.

Add the chocolate mixture to the egg mixture using a rubber spatula to get all the chocolate out of the bowl.  Mix thoroughly together.

Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and mix thoroughly. Stir in the nuts if you’re using them.

Line a baking tin about 20x30cm with a piece of foil or baking paper and pour in the mixture, using a spatula to get the last scrapes out.  Smooth the top of the mixture in the tin.

Put the tin on a shelf in the middle of the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes.   Don’t cook them for too long – better a bit squidgy than too solid.

Take the tin out of the oven and stand it on a wire rack.  Sprinkle the white chocolate chips over the top while the brownies are still hot, to give them a chance to melt a bit. Leave until cool enough to cut into squares.

Gevulde speculaas – Dutch almond slice

Nuts to Lent! I’m giving up giving up things.  Even people who profess not to like marzipan (me included) seem to like this.

  • 200g self raising flour
  • 125g soft brown sugar
  • 4 teaspoons speculaaskruiden
  • A pinch of salt
  • 150 g cold unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 300g marzipan (make sure it’s cold so it can be grated)
  • 50g slivered, flaked or whole almonds for decoration

Sieve the flour, sugar, spices and a pinch of salt into a large bowl. Rub the cold butter into the flour mix until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Try not to get it too warm or the butter will melt and the texture will not be quite as good. Add the milk. Knead the dough into a smooth ball, again trying not to handle it too much or get it too warm. Wrap the dough in cling film or a plastic bag, and place it in the refrigerator for 1 hour (or even overnight).

Whisk the eggs with 1 tablespoon water in a separate bowl. Grate the marzipan over another bowl and pour in half of the egg. Mash the egg with a fork through the marzipan.
Preheat the oven to 175 ˚ C. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle the counter and rolling pin with a little flour. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough to a piece of about 15 x 30 cm. Lay one piece on the baking sheet, then spread the marzipan mixture evenly over it, leaving a border of dough around the edge. Place the second sheet of dough on top and press the edges together to seal in the marzipan mixture.
Brush the top of the dough with the rest of the egg. Press the flaked or whole almonds into the dough as decoration. Put in the heated oven and bake for 40-45 minutes. When baked, leave the cake to cool on the baking sheet before cutting.

Rather than use a baking sheet you could also use a round or square cake tin, which avoids having to roll out equal sized pieces as you can just press the dough into the bottom of the tin.

NOTE: speculaaskruiden is a spice mix, over which people will argue incessantly. It’s like asking what to put in a Christmas pudding – everyone has a different opinion.  However,  this page offers a good compromise that most people will agree with most of the time:

About Dutch Food – speculaaskruiden